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University of Arkansas Receives Cybersecurity Research Grant

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $4.63 million grant to the university to train cybersecurity professionals. The program will focus on attracting students from underrepresented populations around the state.

by Times Record / July 22, 2019

(TNS) — The next generation of cybersecurity professionals will be trained at the University of Arkansas with a $4.63 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The five-year award will allow a multi-disciplinary team of researchers at UA to recruit, educate and train more cybersecurity professionals in three particular industries — cybersecurity, transportation security, and critical infrastructure security.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a well-known proponent of teaching computer science in high schools, told the Times Record the National Science Foundation award will help strengthen an "essential" component in our modern world.

"Cybersecurity is essential to our data-driven high-tech world, and I commend the National Science Foundation and the University of Arkansas for their efforts to strengthen cybersecurity training that protects our personal privacy, as well as supporting entrepreneurs and the growing number of tech companies in Arkansas," Hutchinson said through a spokesperson.

Jia Di, professor of computer science and computer engineering and principal investigator for the program, said the industries being focused on are "critical to our nation's security and economic health."

The "Cyber-Centric Multidisciplinary Security Workforce Development" program will draw on faculty research expertise in the departments of computer science as well as computer engineering, electrical engineering and industrial engineering. Faculty members will design curriculum focused on cybersecurity in the areas of computer and information systems, transportation and critical infrastructure with specific focus on the electrical power grid, a UA news release states. The program will provide job training and research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, and all students will be offered internships at government agencies, where additional training could lead to job placement, the release ads.

The program will also focus on attracting students from underrepresented populations and will partner with Northwest Arkansas Community College to open paths for its students to pursue bachelors' and advanced degrees at the university.

The program will address a national shortage of a highly skilled cybersecurity professionals. Over a one-year period, from September 2017 to August 2018, for example, there were more than 300,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the United States, Di said. Professionals at these companies cited lack of education as the reason for this shortage. To qualify for these jobs, students must understand not only computer systems, networks and software, but also data storage protection, cryptography, malware and software vulnerabilities, as well as the nature of cyber-crimes and other threats to infrastructure.

Led by the Arkansas Security Research and Education Institute (ASCENT), which Di directs, the "Cyber-Centric Multidisciplinary Security Workforce Development"program will include investigators affiliated with several UA research centers — Center for Information Security and Reliability, Mack-Blackwell Transportation Center and Cybersecurity Center for Secure Evolvable Energy Delivery Systems. Students will conduct research at these centers.

Co-principal investigators for the program are Brajendra Panda, professor of computer science and computer engineering; Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering; Dale Thompson, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering; and Chase Rainwater, associate professor of industrial engineering.

©2019 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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